Corps overhaul aims to boost cohesion

Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets is dramatically revamping its structure after nearly a decade under the current system. The new structure will restore companies where rooks stay together all four years, a system where strong company bonds are formed, in a change that will affect all aspects of training, as well as cadet life.

Col. Michael Titus, the 55th Commandant of Cadets, laid out the reasons for the overhaul of corp’s structure. The structural system the Corps currently operates on has been in place since around 2010, and there have certainly been many lessons and issues observed in that time, said Col. Titus. That system is divided, with freshmen rooks placed in their own individual platoons and companies, and upperclassmen in their own respective units as well, with there being very little interaction in between.

“What’s developed over time under the current construct, is two separate Corps and two different standards, one for the upperclassmen, and one for the rooks,” said Col. Titus. “As much as the upper-class leadership wants to hold their subordinates to a standard, there is no intrinsic catalyst for them to do so.”

Col. Titus’s hope is that if upperclassmen are in the same battalions, same companies, “they will be more apt to lead by example, because they will be reminded of the standards they were held to when they were rooks.”

“At this point in the Corps, we’re heavy with assistant and assistant to the assistant positions,” said Col. Titus. “I’m not saying those jobs aren’t meaningful and don’t have a purpose, but we’re trying to give you guys more tangible, and hands-on leadership experiences, ones you’re not necessarily getting as much of now.”

Norwich Corps administrators basically want to see a greater bond and unity formed in companies, which is how it was in Corps pre-2010, back when rooks and upperclassmen were in the same units.

“With this newer system, rooks will start their freshmen year in whatever company they get assigned, and they will stay in that company for their time at Norwich,” said Frank Vanecek, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at Norwich University. “This way, right from the get-go, they develop a bond with their company, and that bond gets carried through their remaining years at the school.”

“As the system currently stands, rooks are assigned a platoon and company for their freshmen year, but after that, they move onto entirely different upperclassmen companies, often separated from those they bonded with during their time as rooks.

Vanecek is well aware that this idea of staying in the same company for years brought problems for the Corps.

“When in the past we had cadets stay in the same companies throughout their years, we encountered an interesting issue,” said Vanecek. “There started being greater loyalty to individual companies than there was to the Corps as a whole. They would be in competition with each other, and it wasn’t necessarily always the healthiest of competition. Hopefully we can avoid having the same thing happen again.”

The restructure also aims to even out the Norwich Corps academic experience. Currently, students often describe their freshman year as incredibly busy and intensive, with sophomore year relatively slow, and junior and senior year again very busy. The new system is structured in a way that takes care of that “sophomore slump” experience.

“We want the transition from sophomore year into junior year, where a significant number of the class is in leadership positions over either their peers or rooks, to be smoother,” said Titus. “The sophomores should have a better basis of leadership knowledge and techniques before taking on the responsibility of cadre, so in a big way, that is one thing this new structure is trying to take care of.”

The existing structure is seen by the commandants staff as top-heavy, with most leadership positions being at the point where upperclassmen feel distant from those they are leading. Now, they feel, there will be more emphasis on lower, direct-level leadership opportunities.

“With the focus now shifting to more hands-on, direct leadership experiences, there are going to be a good amount of jobs opening where that can now happen,” said Titus. “At the very least, we want you guys to be in charge of three to four people, as team leaders within a squad. At that point, general ideas about accountability, responsibility, and how to lead can start to be understood.”

A concern for administrators and students alike is the potential increase in fraternization cases, since the upperclassmen and rooks will be having direct contact on a more frequent basis.

“I mean, we have incidents of fraternization now, there will be incidents 10 years from now. It’s really all a learning process on the parts of the cadets,” said Vanecek. “I am honestly not worried, we know how to handle those incidences, so if they arise, they will be handled.”

Another worry, which involves what Titus calls the “espirit de Corps,” is where in the new system cadets allegiances will fall. This was a problem, says Vanecek, when the Corps had what he calls, “the original companies.”

“Back when we had original companies, we found that there was a really strong bond between all classes that were in the same company,” said Vanecek. “However, due to that strong bond, we began to see that cadets of all classes were having stronger allegiances to their own company, than they were to the Corps of Cadets as a whole.”

Despite those concerns, there are positives that come with the revamp, which keeps some aspects of the current system.

“One thing that really worked in the current system, is how freshman were grouped into their respective platoons with people of similar majors,” said Vanecek. “By having students who are enrolled in the same classes living in such close quarters with each other, you are putting them in place where they can use each other as resources, supporting and studying with one another, and that overall has shown to help GPA. Which is exactly the kind of results we want to see.”

In the restructuring, rooks will still be housed with those of the same major to ensure that GPA’s continue to stay on the rise. From the training aspect, rooks will see much more individualized training, according to a member of the commandant staff.

“One of the biggest things about the new system, is that we’re going to be opening up many new jobs that are on the squad level. So that instead of a squad leader explicitly being in charge of roughly ten rooks, they have two team leaders to split up the responsibility,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Gardner, an assistant commandant at Norwich. “This way, the rooks will have more face-to-face opportunities with their leadership, and they will be able to ask questions, make comments and get more immediate answers.”

With such a major overhaul of the current structure, how long it will take to get the new system working?

“My best guess, is that the first year will be a little rough, with a lot of figure-it-out as we go situations, but who wouldn’t expect that,” said Caleb Hayden, a 19-yearold civil engineering sophomore from New York. “In total, I think it will take around two to three years to work out all of the little issues and get it more or less down to a science. All in all, I do think the new system will be the right way to do things, and everyone will get a lot out of it,” he said.

“For the transition between the two structures, we’re looking at a couple years for everything to figure itself out and for people to adjust to what we’re trying to do,” said Titus. “I haven’t experienced any resistance from my staff on the matter, and I don’t envision receiving much from the Cadets and their leaders, but with any change, there is always resistance. I think, nonetheless, the transition will be well executed.”

There is unanimous opinion on the administrative staff, that this big change is the right direction for the Corps of Cadets. The Corp’s individual units are expected to become closer, more cohesive units, and the Corps as a whole will be stronger.

This says more about the school as a whole than it does the Corps, says Vanecek. “The biggest thing that this change says about Norwich as a school, is the fact that it remains a very progressive school as it rounds out its second century of existence in higher education,” said Vanecek.

“We have never been afraid of change and the actions it takes to make that change happen, and I think that it’s shown very well in the proposed change to the Corps of Cadets. It shows that we take initiative and that we can change with the times and society around us, and as an institution, that’s an important image to convey.”

That very progressiveness will be what carries Norwich into its third century of existence, according to Vanecek and other members of administration. That view draws backing from Hayden and other students.

“One thing I do love about this school, is that it isn’t stagnant, or static. It has this dynamic desire to constantly improve upon itself and work towards something better, which is a sentiment you see embodied by those who walk through the halls of the university,” said Hayden. “I think the change is good, and I know that the people initiating the change know what they are doing, which makes me pretty excited to see what my last two years of school here will look like.”

From all angles, Norwich administrators are confident in the proposed new system, and think that academics, physical fitness, training and the relationships that are built through the Corps will only become stronger because of it. It is not that there was “one big thing” that needed to be addressed, says Titus, it’s just time to progress and “better ourselves and the corps.”

“The greatest strength of the new system will be those who lead it into existence, and those who go above and beyond to ensure that the espirit de corps is thriving again, in and amongst all member of the Corps,” said Titus. “The restructuring of the Corps is progressive, and it’s a smart move when looking out for the current and future leaders how will come out of this University.”

Comments

  1. John T. Alexander says:

    Outstanding, truly remarkable. Rarely, in today’s entrenched society, are large institutions able to change course so dramatically. My daughter is a junior SFC in the Class of 2019 and most recently shepherded her rooks through recognition. With this new policy her rooks will enjoy a much more rewarding experience in the Corps of Cadets. I recall many conversations at the conclusion of Jenna’s freshmen year regarding the implication of having her rook buddies assigned far and wide throughout the Corps. She made the best of it but I certainly recognize many ways in which the present system adversely affected her connections to her rook buddies. Another significant piece to consider is returning intramurals to the Corps to foster esprit de corps as well as physical fitness. Can’t reverse time, so she will have her senior year to help NU right the ship. Essayons.
    J.T. Alexander
    NU 1991
    F Company

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